13 February, 2016
Chocolate is an important part of Valentine's Day celebrations in many countries.
People often buy boxed chocolates and give them to a loved one. In some areas, Valentine's Day is celebrated with chocolate festivals.
At one such event near Washington, D.C., the visitors tasted all kinds of chocolates and learned about the history of these sweet treats.
"The tree grows these pods. You can feel what a pod feels like. It feels fake but..."
This chocolate festival took place recently in McLean, Virginia. Visitors started by learning about cocoa beans, the main substance used in chocolate.
"Inside, there are about 20 to 40 cocoa beans. And you see the white color here is actually the pulp on the outside of the beans..."
The visitors got to see how the beans are separated from their husks, and then broken into smaller pieces. These cocoa nibs are ground on a heated stone. Spices and other ingredients are added to produce a block of chocolate.
The festival goers learn how chocolate was used mainly as a drink up to and through the 1880s. That was before the 1st candy bar was manufactured and sold.
That sound is David Borghesani, a chocolate historian, hitting a block of chocolate.
"It is just a little too hard for us to eat like a candy bar. So in Colonial chocolate making, they would have taken chocolate blocks in this form and grate it to make fine chocolate power."
The chocolate particles are then mixed with hot water in a container.
"We found an authentic colonial recipe, partnering with the folks at Colonial Williamsburg. The recipe dates back to the 1750s. And it is a recipe that actually documented nine different seasonings and spices in the recipe."
People who tasted the drink seemed pleasantly surprised.
"Oh, it is delicious. It is very good. It's very spicy and rich and not too sweet. It's been great for the kids. They enjoy trying different chocolates and then learning about how their favorite treats are made. Very educational!"
In a separate room, visitors also have a chance to taste and purchase chocolate products from local dealers. Lynn Heinrichs is the president of the Rotary Club of McLean, which organizes the yearly festival.
"The proceeds from this event will help fund not just our local projects but some international projects, as well. For example, we have built a dental clinic in Swaziland, Africa. We also have the medical brigade, which is in Honduras, partners of surgery in Guatemala. We have bought computers for low income schools in Greece..."
She hopes the festival will help sweeten more lives than just those that taste the goods.
I'm Marsha James.
VOA's June Soh reported on this story for VOANews. Marsha James adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
pulp – n. the fairly soft white substance that is left after the cocoa beans are removed
nibs – n. shelled and crushed cocoa beans
grate – v. to cut (food) into very small pieces by rubbing it against a special tool (called a grater)
authentic – adj. real
brigade – n. a large group of people organized to act together
pods – n. a long, thin part of some plants that has seeds inside
husks – n. a usually thin, dry layer that covers some seeds and fruits
ingredients – n. one of the things that are used to make a food, product, etc.
candy bar – n. A solid, bar-shaped confection, as of chocolate or caramel.
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